Companions’ Blog

A Summer Week with St. Benedict

















June 25-29 at St. John’s Convent, 9:30 – 4:30 pm: spend a week learning about St. Benedict and the influence of his rule on contemporary Christians and new intentional communities. Sister Connie will teach this course at the Convent for Wycliffe College. Accommodation is available at the Convent, or people can attend as commuters. See the Wycliffe College website for registration information, as listed on the poster.

Download the poster:Flyer – Benedictine Spirituality


Do you like to accompany others on their spiritual journeys?
Are you interested in helping young women achieve their spiritual potential?
Are you a woman studying theology at the graduate level or a recent graduate seeking part-time employment?

Then you may be interested in a new staff position at St. John’s Convent to give leadership support for its Companions Program. Companions are women who spend a year living alongside the Sisterhood. Companions come from a variety of denominations, ages, and education/vocational backgrounds to share in the Sisters’ life of prayer and service for one year.

This is an opportunity for a theology student or recent graduate who is seeking contract employment for one to two years. Applicants for the position may come from any denomination. For more information about the position contact the Rev. Canon Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert, Companions Coordinator, at St. John’s Convent 416-226-2201 ext. 316 or email

Watch a video about the Companions program:




Rublev Trinity
Rublev, Hopitality of Abraham, 15th century Russia

Have you Have you noticed how busy and distracted everyone is lately? Have you noticed how busy and distracted you’ve become lately? Busyness and distraction have become a way of life. How do we keep all the balls in the air – all the commitments in balance? How do you carve out time to pray when there are so many demands on your time?

Ronald Rolheiser, theologian and author once wrote “Distraction is normal in our culture. Contemplativeness, solitude and prayer are not.”

When I look at my own life, and listen to the lives of those around me, I am struck by how often I hear the phrase that has become a kind of mantra for many: “I’m so busy!” Perhaps the time for teaching – and practicing – the contemplative arts has never been more pertinent. On the other hand, ever since Eve and Adam left the Garden, it has been our sad refrain.

The Christian classic The Way of a Pilgrim chronicles the journey of an unnamed nineteenth-century Russian peasant. Following the tragic loss of his wife and livelihood, the pilgrim is propelled on a spiritual journey with nothing but a Bible, a prayer rope, and some dried bread, seeking an answer to his profound conundrum: how does one respond authentically to St. Paul’s prescription to “pray without ceasing”? (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  His quest sets him wandering, searching for someone to teach him how to master such a seemingly impossible assignment.

At the very heart of The Way of the Pilgrim is the Jesus Prayer: “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son Of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”  Known in the Orthodox Church as “the prayer of the heart.” and dating back to at least the 4th century Egyptian desert, these simple words have been a mainstay for Orthodox Christians. This humble prayer is aided when prayed with a prayer rope in hand. First made by monks for their own use, prayer ropes were later adopted by those outside the monastery. While we may be tempted to think of prayer ropes as an Eastern version of the Rosary, they are actually quite different.

Prayer Rope.jpgPrayer ropes are usually made of wool, sheared from sheep – a reminder that we belong to Christ, the Good Shepherd. While they can be made in different colours, black – the colour of mourning – is most commonly used, for in prayer we mourn the sins which separate us from God and our neighbour. Some prayer ropes include a tassel which is customarily used to dry the tears shed in sorrow for one’s sins. For some, this tassel also symbolizes Heaven, which can only be found through the cross which, in the rope, precedes the tassel.

The person praying says the Jesus Prayer for each knot on the rope. Often the rope is 33 knots long but they come in all different lengths. In The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim said the prayer 2,000, then 6,000, then 12,000 times a day. Is 12,000 Jesus Prayers better than 2,000? It is not the quantity of the prayers that is important but rather the quality, the love with which the prayer is said and the faithfulness with which it is practiced. The pilgrim prayed much because that was his “heart’s desire.” Every prayer is an act of love, offered to the Author of Love, who waits expectantly for us and for our acceptance of his Love. Numbers have nothing to do with this kind of devotion or with a living relationship with Jesus.

When our hearts are restless and our minds wandering, the knots on the prayer rope can help us to focus on the words of the prayer. As our thumb and forefinger continuously move over the knots, our heart continuously cries out its plaintive words.  Some years ago now I was gifted a prayer rope by Bishop Henry Hill who devoted much of his life to study and dialogue with the Orthodox community. Its soft, well-worn texture feels reassuring in my hands, and in a way that I do not fully understand, helps move the prayer from my lips to my heart.

Perhaps what is old can be new again.  In our on-going quest to draw closer to Christ, I wonder whether the time has come for us to slow the pace, lose the distractions, leave the busyness behind and make a pilgrimage back to praying, without ceasing, the prayer of our hearts.

The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith is Rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church, Dartmouth N.S.
and Oblate of SSJD


The “Great O” antiphon for December 23 is “O Emmanuel.
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Matthew 1: 18 – 23

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’

EMMANUEL the law-giver, the peace-bringer, the heart-healer.  We long for a presence among us that can bring us to something we call ‘home’, where we are at one with our deepest longing.  You are our God, come and save us – from ourselves, from our selfishness, our pride and arrogance, from our self-pity and our self-doubt.  Come and save us Emmanuel, from the fears that hold us in the dark: our fears of others who are different than we are, our fears of changes and issues that clash.  Emmanuel – it is to us: to us that a child is born – and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called ‘wonderful counselor, mighty and everlasting God, Prince of Peace.  To us does God reveal tenderness in the person of Jesus.  To us does God show might and power, in the fragile gift of a child born to a woman.  To us.  To our very selves is Jesus given!  God takes on flesh so that every home becomes holy, every human person becomes the Christ, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament. The very gift of Christmas is our own call to empty ourselves in order to be made pregnant with the Word.  We are responsible for the gift – and our task is to nurture it and love it into live.  Each of us are called to mother-forth the Christ given to us as gift.  St. Bernard said “what use is it to us if Christ be born in Bethlehem and not in our own hearts?”  We are called to bring Christ to birth in the world through the way we live with others.  We too are Theotokos – Christ bearers to the world. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O come Emmanuel!
And ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 22 is “O King (or Desire) of the Nations.”
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Jeremiah 30: 7 – 11a

Alas! that day is so great
there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
yet he shall be rescued from it.

On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will break the yoke from off his neck, and I will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the Lord,
and do not be dismayed, O Israel;
for I am going to save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and no one shall make him afraid.
For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you;

KING OF THE NATIONS and desire of our hearts – amidst all the senseless violence of life you are the cornerstone that binds us into a home for God.  God is the true desire of every heart, the ache of loneliness that plagues us all our lives, even in the most intimate loving encounters.  But how many of us human creatures realize that we are created to be so completely ‘at one’ with God, that our deep longing for love and union cannot ever be fully met outside of that at-one-ment?  And so we pray that Jesus, the cornerstone, will bind us into a home for God..  We are homes for God, each one of us, this is the single most important truth about us: inclusiveness not rejection is God’s theme song for us and God’s desire for our hearts in our relationships with each other.  There is no other criteria for a mutuality of love between the peoples of this earth other than this: we are one-ed in God by our shared humanity.  We pray to be at one – to make all nations one – to bind us together in a mutuality of love and respect: in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in the world.  All our roots are inter-tangled.  In our deepest selves we know that every struggle helps free those things we most cherish and hope for.  How many there are who have no realization of their own intrinsic loveliness of being, who do not understand the endless ache of their inner being, and who try to fill that longing through the accumulation of things, the exercise of power, the search for success or the endless quest for the ultimate ‘experience’ to make meaning of life.  In the darkness of the night – we sing “O Ruler of the Nations and true Desire of our hearts!  You are the cornerstone inviting us all into a home for God.  Come, Lord Jesus. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind.
O bid our bitter conflict cease,
and be for us our Prince of Peace.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 21 is “O Morning Star” (or “O Dayspring”).
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Isaiah 60:1 – 3

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

MORNING STAR – O brilliant Sun of Righteousness, of Justice, that lights up the path of life.  So often in the most inauspicious of circumstances the light of grace crosses our pathway and stops with us, keeps company with us.  God of surprises.  How we all long for justice with mercy, and cry out for the hand of God to intervene in the chaos we have created for ourselves.  We beg for justice with mercy for peoples, for nations, for the poor, for families, for this and that person, for the earth itself.  How often we cry out to God – why do you let these things happen?  We want God to break forth in brilliance and make all things better – right now!  Instead, God shines in the darkness that hides our path.  Little by little we see what we should do to drive back injustice and make the systems serve the least as well as the greatest.  Lord Jesus, come and light up the darkness concealing from us the path of life.  Light up even the motes of misery and make them merry with the light of God.  Grace is freely given, and little by little, it lifts us and our world from our self-centred and sometimes violent passions, and directs our feet on the way of peace.  Yes, come, Rising Sun, light of God’s love, promise of mercy, leave us no place to hide from You in the damp and chill of selfishness.  The morning star, the dayspring – come O Rising Sun of righteousness with healing in your wings!  We are now children of light – gift givers of light for the world. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O Dayspring from on high
and cheer us by your drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 20 is “O Key of David.”
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Isaiah 22: 20 – 23

On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honour to his ancestral house.

KEY OF DAVID – the key to whatever meaning unifies our lives, the key that can open us to infinite possibilities.  The key to the prisons that confine us and to the doors that keep us safe.  The worst prisons are the invisible ones.  There is not a lot of security in the world – around us, competition for what we want, need, or feel driven to take.  Our lives are fragile and vulnerable and yet this antiphon provides a calming – you open and none can close, you close and none can open.  Within apparent chaos there is order.  Within death, new life.  The power of God is more than all the evil that we can do to one another, or to this world.  In spite of us, God will be God to us.  We can doubt it, we can blind ourselves to it, but in the end, we are images of God.  Born of God, like unto God.  Even the worst of us, a spark of the Divine.  But we are fragile and vulnerable.  All of us worship in mystery, be it God as Father, as Mother, as Scripture, as consecrated Bread and Wine, in the wonders of nature, hidden in hearts, or as the Cloud of Unknowing.  Come – let us rejoice in the small fragments that reveal the loving God in whatever manner and share with one another.  All of us are seated in darkness, but the lock in the door is turning – sweet sound!  And tomorrow He comes and we will be free!  Come, overcome us, pull us out of our inner prisons of mind and heart, break down the walls of isolation and open for us new vistas of grace.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.  Free us.  And after the darkness comes the dawning.  Come Lord Jesus, Ero Cras!  I shall be there tomorrow. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 19 is “O Branch of Jesse” (or O Root).
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Isaiah 11: 1 – 4a

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

BRANCH OF JESSE – “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain.”  We often feel like we are outside, but we are never outside of God’s love.  O branch of Jesse — the promise of salvation and hope for all peoples.  Always a faithful God confronts our faithlessness and loves us back to life.  There is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again and that the tender branch will bud and become a shoot that will not cease.  Though the root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water, it will bud, and put forth branches like a young plant (The Book of Job).  Out of the old root there is a new greening, a new birth.  Will we welcome the Word and carry it to the world, so that God might be born in our hearts and in our world also.  This tiny Branch will break down walls and barriers.  This is the first day, the first antiphon in which we add some special urgency to our daily plea of “come!”  We add the words,  “and do not delay.”  The most casual glance at the world’s leaders and the state of things today will reveal that the fullness of the Messiah’s role as a rallying point for all, before Whom all rulers shall be silent, is not just around the corner.  We affirm that by our urgency, by begging God to hurry!  O come and free us and do not make us wait. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem
from every foe deliver them
that trust your mighty power to save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.




The “Great O” antiphon for December 18 is “O Lord.
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Exodus 3: 1 – 6:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

LORD who appeared to Moses in the burning bush — oh the blaze of the sun as it slips beneath the horizon; we are surrounded with blazing bushes — trees lit by sunset red!  How awesome!  Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground!  This is the holy ground of encounter — this world of ours.  Here in this place God has chosen to be at home.  Now, right here, in this place.  Holy ground.  And this place is wherever each day I find myself, in whatever circumstances and situations.  Burning bushes of God surround us every day in people, places, things.  They are found where we least expect them: in poverty, in the eyes of children, in suffering, in the graceful encounter of lovers, in the cry of a child, in the dry desert places and bleakness, in the dew on a spider’s web, in the smile of a tiny baby.  Truly God’s voice speaks to us in the burning bushes of the entire world. Yes, O Lord, the sacred, saving Gospel name of God, come with passion and saving love to empower us as a shalom community of faith in the work of liberation and peace. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O come great Lord of might.
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law,
in cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.



O Wisdom

The Great O antiphon for December 17 is “O Wisdom.”
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Ecclesiasticus 24: 3 – 9

I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens,
and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
and traversed the depths of the abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
and over every people and nation I have held sway.
Among all these I sought a resting-place;
in whose territory should I abide?
Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, “Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.”
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.

WISDOM is the Mother, gently awakening the child — each one of us  — from a natural sleep.  It is a sleep to which we lent ourselves willingly in weariness at the end of yesterday, and now, strengthened and restored, we are ready to be awakened.  Mother Wisdom gently speaks to us so that we may open our eyes to the dawn, to the light and energies of a new world.  Mother Wisdom’s voice is gentle and loving and she summons us to hope and long for truth, justice and peace.  And still there is about Wisdom a definite strength and masculine quality that exists within us to push that life out into our world.  Wisdom is called “a breath of the power of God,” “a reflection of eternal light — a mirror of the working of God” (Wisdom 7).  This tender and strong love — the compassion of our God who so loves the world — tenderly bends over it, encompasses, surrounds and enfolds it.  Yes, O Wisdom, come and teach us how to live. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O Wisdom from on high
Who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.